(Photo by: Sarah Ferguson/Courtesy Richmond Ballet)
After 14 years of dancing with the Richmond Ballet, Lauren Fagone plans to retire after a Studio Three performance of Salvatore Aiello’s rendering of “The Rite of Spring,” from April 12 to 17.
Fagone began her life in motion at age 4 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. She apprenticed with the North Carolina Dance Theatre and continued her studies at Indiana University before joining the Richmond Ballet. She traveled with the company to its first overseas engagements in England and China, and she previously danced in “The Rite of Spring” in 2013 for the piece’s 100th anniversary. Now, the ballet in which she portrays the sacrificial “Chosen One” is her professional farewell. Redheaded and petite but dancer-lithe, Fagone laughs big and her quick-clip voice vibrates in the table as we talk, with “Rite” rehearsals and Stravinsky’s music behind us.
Richmond magazine: For a celebration of ballet master Malcolm Burn’s career a few years ago, you helped put together “The Heretic’s Guide to Ballet,” comprising Burns aphorisms. One is: “You have to dance long enough to get good enough to have fun.” Reflecting on your career here, what do you make of that observation? Are you having fun?
Fagone: I am! There’s a benefit to being in a company long enough to see a work cycle back more than once. Malcolm always says the dance can never be the same. Each performance must be made new. As a dancer, I gravitated toward roles that require personal investment. I’m not a technician — never have been. My heart must connect to the material. All these other things fall away and you’re left with: How can you embody and inhabit this character and portray the story to the audience?
RM: This particular ballet played a formative role in your adult career.
Fagone: I first saw “Rite of Spring” when I was 17 and an apprentice at North Carolina Dance Theatre — which is now the Charlotte Ballet — and at that point, I’d never experienced anything like it. Jerri Kumery (now with Richmond Ballet) was the ballet master there, so I’ve known her for a long time now. I had a similar response as it caused in 1913. “Rite of Spring” caused shockwaves in both ballet and music worlds. I didn’t know that ballet could be like this, or [be] this powerful. I said, “I would love to do that; this is something to aspire to.” We as dancers strive for perfection on a daily basis. So having achieved something I set in my mind a decade ago feels really good.
RM: In “Rite,” you’re playing this demiurgic character, The Chosen One — this wild thang — which nevertheless must be danced well, while appearing in the throes of abandon.
Fagone: (Laughs.) If you’re going to end on something — what a way to go, huh? This is an incredibly primitive tribe that celebrates life — by sacrificing a woman. It’s very raw. The role takes a certain kind of artist, someone who has maturity and experience to really be able to have that quality of abandon. And if it wasn’t a little bit dangerous, then it wouldn’t be as exciting, spellbinding, mesmerizing. And having Jerri there, who is glorious and understands the nuance of every moment — this really embodies the learning of this ballet from her. In this dance, we are a group, we are a tribe, we breathe as one.
RM: What informed your decision to retire?
Fagone: I’ve been dancing since I was 4 years old. Through this art and profession, I’ve become who I was supposed to be. And most of it occurred here (at the Richmond Ballet). This is a wonderful place to live and breathe and work. I could continue a year or two — but I also see the younger generation coming up. It’s important that the older dancers bring the younger ones into the fold. I want the company left to them as it was to me. I’m not mad or sad; I feel grateful and fortunate. I have this lovely scrap book (mimes turning pages and pointing), so when I’m 85, I can say: Remember how I could do that? (Laughs.) Remember when I didn’t have two plastic hips? And this is an incredible group of people. We’ll be friends all our lives, even if we live in different cities.
RM: You’ve had long-term dance partners who moved on, too.
Fagone: Phil Skaggs retired in the spring. And he and I have danced a lot over the years. Building a partnership like that is a lot of fun. Phil’s a gem. When we danced together, I trusted him completely. Sometimes he’d say, “Fagone, you got this. I got ya, I got ya.” And I’d realize: “Yeah, that’s right, he’s got me!” His support — and not just as a partner holding me up — allowed me to push myself more. Our partnership was really magical. I thank him for all those years. And I got to dance with him in his retirement show, Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Walzer.” That last show, I was bawling in the back. Every retirement of a dancer is bittersweet. You mourn this beautiful thing that has defined your life and that you’ve struggled and strived to achieve.
RM: Have you considered your next steps?
Fagone: I want to savor the time I have left and not have the perfect plan in place. I didn’t want that stress and tension. I feel calm and relaxed and happy and grateful. I won’t walk down the street slumped over. My collar bone will be up, chest proud, neck long. The next steps will come. I’m a dancer.
Tickets for the Richmond Ballet’s Studio Three production of “The Rite of Spring,” on a double bill with a world premiere by Mark Annear of the Royal Ballet School in London, from April 12-17 range from $21 to $41. 407 E. Canal St. 344-0906 or richmondballet.com.